Kyla Embrey was shopping at a trendy, fast fashion retailer about eight years ago when she panicked while flipping through the racks. “I was questioning, why are these so cheap? I know that someone had to make these. How could they make these so cheap?" she recalls. “All these questions about sustainability and labor practices and waste came to my mind."
She left the store and vowed that she wouldn't buy anything new for the next year (except for socks and underwear). Fortunately, one of her hobbies had always been shopping in vintage shops, so she found it was easier than she'd expected to go the secondhand route. In fact, she'd recently started selling the treasures she'd found at weekend markets as a side hustle. There, she became friends with another vendor, Sarah Azzouzi, and the two decided to join forces and create their own business, called Lost Girls Vintage, selling vintage wares at pop-ups and a mobile shop they began operating out of a 1976 Dodge RV.
In spring 2019, Lost Girls Vintage opened a brick and mortar location in Chicago and hired its first employee. For Embrey, who works full time as general manager of a restaurant, it's been exciting watching her side gig grow and thrive. She says she's grateful to have a partner who manages the day-to-day operations, and she's thrilled that their work is helping make the earth greener, one suede fringe poncho at a time. “Selling something vintage is sustainable in two ways. One, I'm giving a garment a longer life and keeping it out of the landfill. But also, if I sell someone a beautiful green silk shirt, then they're not going to go out and buy a brand new green silk shirt," she says. “I think a lot of people are still not aware of how polluting the garment industry is."
And “fast fashion," she adds, is especially concerning, because people tend to purchase a cheap, trendy item—often produced in a pollutive overseas factory or sweatshop where workers may be exploited—and wear it for just a season or even an occasion before they discard it or it falls apart, because it's made poorly. With Lost Girls Vintage, she feels like she's helping the environment—and also her customers' wallets.
It's an ideal scenario when someone truly enjoys their side gig, says Nick Loper, who has become an expert on side gigs through his podcast and website, Side Hustle Nation, where his title is “chief side hustler." While most people get into a side gig to make extra cash, Loper points out that it really helps to enjoy the work. “The last thing you need is a second job that you hate," he says.
Loper added that he's seeing more eco-friendly side gig opportunities arise lately. “It's kind of a broader trend that society is interested in, so it's natural there are more businesses popping up to support that," he says. He shared these sustainable side hustle ideas for people looking to make the leap.
The freelance lifestyle is as flexible as you want to make it, starting even with the type of work it involves. First, consider your talents. Freelancers can be artists, writers, photographers, graphic designers, consultants, accountants, editors, virtual assistants, computer programmers, lawyers—the list goes on. When you know what you'd like to do, start reaching out and letting others know you're available to do the work, whether it's via email, word-of-mouth or by creating a listing on a freelance website, of which there are many. Loper points out that freelancing can be good for your bank account, and for the environment. “You can do it from anywhere," he says. “You don't have a commute and you're not polluting the environment in any way."
Start as lean as possible. Prove the model first for as inexpensively as you can.
—Nick Loper, founder, Side Hustle Nation
Can you transform trash into treasure? If the answer is yes, great. If the answer is not yet, well, there are all kinds of videos out there that can teach you how to master this skill. Taking something old and making it look new(er) is a viable, environmentally-friendly side gig, says Loper. “The stories pop up on Instagram about salvaging and refinishing old farmhouse tables and stuff," he says. “It's a kind of upcycling—we're saving this from the landfill." Plus, it's something you can do in your free time and, if you enjoy it, it could provide stress relief from your workaday job.
3. Junk Removal
Thanks to a new trend in decluttering, there could be prosperity potential in launching a junk removal service, says Loper. He's interviewed junk removers in the past for his podcast, and they told him that nearly two-thirds of what they took away was repurposed, recycled or diverted from landfills in some way. In other words, you can be paid to haul away someone's junk and then get paid again to upcycle, or at least recycle it.
4. Picking Up Trash
Often, commercial businesses, including strip malls and property management companies, need help keeping their lots clean, says Loper. It's a duty that may fall through the cracks: it's not the job of the waste and recycling company, nor does it necessarily fall under the duties of the landscaping firm. That opens up a side hustle opportunity, says Loper. “It's the perfect side gig, because you've got to do it before the cars show up, so you do it early morning or late at night," he says.
5. Bicycle Delivery
Customers expect instant gratification and immediate service these days, and bike messengers can help make that happen by delivering items from a business to another business or from a business to a customer. A number of websites and apps depend on delivery services, so you can post an ad on an existing platform and start pedaling. Loper says a friend of his who is an attorney in Minneapolis starting doing just that recently. “He said, 'I needed to get some exercise anyway, and it's nice here in the summer, so I'll go ride my bike around and make some deliveries,'" says Loper. It's great for the environment, not to mention your health.
Loper says that when starting a side gig, eco-friendly or otherwise, business owners should avoid sinking a lot of cash into the venture upfront. “Start as lean as possible," he says. “Prove the model first for as inexpensively as you can."
Embrey agrees, adding that people should keep an open mind as they launch their side gig. “It's really easy to burn out as you try to do too much at once or too much too fast," she says. “I would say take it slow but be open to opportunities and outcomes that might be different than how you imagined."
After all, she and her partner built Lost Girls Vintage with a mindset of saying “yes," and it's led to growth and opportunities—like a brick and mortar store and even an employee—beyond her dreams.
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